The making of Water Fight Strike Force!
Sampo Rask created a set of three characters inspired by the idea of a team-based multiplayer water fight game. Here, he runs through the modeling methods and techniques he used in ZBrush and Blender to create this fun image.
This article goes through the process of creating a character in ZBrush, with various hard-surface props made in Blender.
For a long time I wanted to create a character that would fit into a FPS or third-person shooter game. But I've seen my share of the generic video game soldier models, and I wanted to create something original.
I imagined what character classes would look like in a team-based multiplayer water fight game. The plan was to create one of the characters and then decide whether I had time for the other two, but right after I finished the Engineer I knew I had to make all of them! On top of being a fun project I took this as a chance to practice creating different body types.
I began by loosely sketching the characters traditionally on paper. This was to get an outline for the characters' look and proportions. I feel most comfortable experimenting in 3D so I knew what I had on paper was in no way final – just a guideline and a reference to remind me of any ideas I had for the character. As you'll see, every character ended up changing at least a bit. For example, the Assault guy transformed along the way from having a Baywatch theme to something more ‘water polo' inspired.
I have a library of generic models with good topology, such as heads, ears, skulls, teeth, and whole bodies - some of which I've made myself and some that other artists have offered for free. Since I wanted to get a head start and focus on the sculpting, I decided to use one of the male base meshes from my library.
Blocking out the proportions
Since my workflow for all the three characters was pretty similar, I'm going to use the Engineer as an example.
I imported my base mesh into ZBrush and started roughing out the basic proportions for my character with the Move, Move Topological, Inflate and Smooth brushes. I stayed on the lowest subdivision level to keep things easy and to stop me from going into too much detail too early.
When I was happy with the overall figure I subdivided the mesh once and started establishing anatomical key points such as hips, clavicles, knees, and the biggest muscles using Clay Buildup, DamStandard and Smooth brushes.
Don't settle for the Standard brush - try different brushes for different things and explore brush options and different alphas.
Sculpting more detail
It's important to start low res and don't move up until you feel you can't do anything on that level anymore. If you see some fundamental mistakes, such as proportions being incorrect, go back to the lower levels to fix them.
Once I was happy with the basic shape I subdivided the mesh once again and started to sculpt more detail. The brush I generally use the most is Clay Buildup, in co-operation with the Smooth brush. I love how strong and efficient ClayBuildup is. What I usually do is make a few good, strong strokes with ClayBuildup and then go over the strokes lightly with smooth brush, using tablet pressure sensitivity to control the strength. Another thing I often do is make a long zigzag stroke to flesh out a form and then use the Smooth brush (see image).
I chose to do the Engineer first because his concept was the clearest of all three and because my own body type is closest to his. Because of that I could use myself as a reference. I'd recommend using yourself as a reference for anatomy and poses.
Also, gather a lot of reference material for your project and collect the best and most generic ones as a general reference library. In addition to the model library, I've got an ever-expanding library of anatomy references. On top of that I also gathered a lot of project-specific references.
Using reference is really, really important - even if you're making stylized or cartoony characters. Characters can and should be anatomically correct even though they are not realistic. Anatomical correctness isn't the same thing as realism. It means that your character could have, for example, a working skeletal and muscular system under its skin. I believe that being (moderately) anatomically correct gives characters a lot of believability. That's why I'm constantly trying to learn more about it.
When I had the Engineer on a satisfying level, I exported the model into Blender and started to create all the props around him. All the props were modeled by hand, again using reference images as guides. I like to model by starting from a single edge or a circle and working from there, using the Mirror (symmetry) modifier where needed.
All the props were modeled isolated and then placed on the character. I didn't stress about placing them spot on because I knew I was going to pose the character later.
Posing the character
I used ZBrush's Transpose Master to create the low res mesh from my SubTools and then exported that mesh to Blender for rigging and posing. This time I only had one SubTool so doing this via the Transpose Master wasn't essential. I could have just exported the lowest subdivision level instead. I used OBJ files to transfer my models between Blender and ZBrush since there is no (official) GoZ plugin for Blender. What's important is to check the Keep vertex order in Blender's OBJ exporter and importer to keep everything synced.
In Blender I created a quick and simple rig with IK hands and feet and used automatic weights to skin the model to the rig. Again, I wasn't afraid to use myself as a reference. I used an umbrella to act as a gun and did some poses in front of a mirror to find something that I liked. When you're doing the poses yourself, you feel how your limbs are and your how weight distributes, which really helps posing. Even though you might know you're presenting the model from a specific angle it's important to observe the pose from all sides. Looking orthogonally straight from the top is a surprisingly good angle to see if the pose is weighted properly.
After I had a good pose I brought the model back to ZBrush and continued to tweak it with the Transpose tool and Move, and Move Topological brushes. I also re-sculpted a lot to make the body respond to the pose: muscles contracting and expanding, skin stretching or folding. Again, I looked at myself in the mirror in that pose for reference.
Putting the character together
After that I exported a fairly high subdivision version of the character to Blender for reference and began placing the props around him. I exported all of them as OBJ files and used MultiAppend to import them into ZBrush. I then sculpted some folds, wear and tear to the props and I was pretty much done!
Rendering was done with Decimated versions of the models in Blender with Cycles. I used proxy meshes to composite the characters into the scene to keep the viewport responsive. The high res meshes were hidden and parented to the proxies and switched at render time. Below you can see the rendering setup I used, with lights tagged with their color and intensity.
I rendered three passes: beauty, mask for characters and the backdrop with different lights. I then composited them together in Photoshop and added some color-correction and lens effects. You can see the final image here.
Thanks for reading!